On August 1st I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to deliver the Keynote at the CRADLE conference in Singapore.
The presentation contained a mix of material contained in “Schooling at the Speed of Thought” and some of the articles in this blog, especially the Transformation Phase article. Here’s the key points:
Singapore was one of the first countries in the world to have a national strategy to roll out ICT to all schools. Key challenges addressed in this initiative are to:
Prepare students to meet the challenges of the 21st Century
Bring about improved learning and increased engagement through the use of ICT
Enable more self-directed learning
In summary, the challenge is to make schooling in Singapore even more effective through the use of ICT.
To address this, we need to ask three key questions:
1. How can software accelerate the learning process?
Computers in learning are increasingly being used as tools for creativity rather than as machines to deliver the curriculum. So, with a proliferation of new hardware and software developments, what new creative options are there for learning? How can software help to personalise the learning experience and open up completely new learning opportunities?
2. How can software be used to make better decisions?
How can schooling information and data be leveraged to get maximum impact from precious resources; what do we mean by “intelligent intervention” and why it is so important; how can we empower all stakeholders with information; and how do we drive alignment and performance towards strategic goals?
3. How can Cloud Computing be exploited to cheaply deliver massive-scale, high-quality learning solutions?
We don’t normally expect a school to generate its own electricity – but we have expected our education institutions to be experts at running their own “IT Power Stations”. How can Cloud Computing change this?
With the advent of Cloud Computing, also comes the realistic prospect of providing anytime anywhere learning for all. So how can massive, cheap, and highly available computing services be combined with a range of access technologies and high quality learning content to open up learning opportunities to all citizens of Singapore – and especially those who are in the greatest need of it?
With highly developed infrastructure, talent and innovation, Singapore is in a great position to exploit technology even further. The concluding part of this presentation asked what world-leading innovations and software solutions can be leveraged in Singapore and how we can architect “anytime anywhere learning for all?
Thanks to my colleages in Singapore – Horng Shya Chua; Jason Trump; Gerald Tan; Puay San Ng; Eugenia Lim, Lee Boon Keng and the staff and students at Crescent Girls’ School. Thanks also to all those who attended the CRADLE event.
One of the more interesting solutions shown at WPC in Los Angeles was a Video Infrastructure Management system from Polycom. This system has enabled school districts to drive down costs and raise standards by providing a platform for easily creating content, and making it searchable and easy to consume.
One school district taking advantage of this is Gaston County in North Carolina. This school district is comprised of 54 schools with 31,416 students in disparate locations. Gaston County School planners realised that limited budget and resources would force them to find innovative ways to meet their ambitious academic achievement goals within aggressively constrained budgets.
The district had a legacy videotape loan network to enable students in multiple locations to participate in remote classes, so upgrading this became the focus of the solution project. The first step was to install video capture solutions in distance learning labs to capture the video and audio output directly while classes were in progress. This also included screen captures from computers, whiteboards, document cameras – even content from a graphic calculator. The system then converted the content into synchronized presentations that could be viewed live or on-demand through a browser.
These units are centrally controlled via a multimedia content management solution , which organizes and manages presentations via a customized search portal. The system then automates a variety of steps in the class capture and publishing process – including the scheduling of classes every day at specific times; publishing of files to streaming and web servers; and managing a storage area network located at the Gaston County Division of Resource Management Office. Reporting systems can show which students have viewed the online class archives.
As a result of implementing the solution, Gaston County’s distance learning courses doubled within a year. Now the county is expanding opportunities for more students to experience special programs and collaborate with local higher education partners, including taking advanced courses at the neighboring Gaston College.
Finally, the solution also enables professional development for the county’s 4400 employees and nearly 2200 teachers. According to Don Junker, Assistant Chief Technology Officer, “The school district is very spread out so when there’s a mandatory training program a staff member may have to drive 45-minutes to get there, or instructors may have to repeat the class dozens of times to ensure 100% participation. Now, we can save travel costs and staff wear-and-tear by using distance learning and archive the sessions for those who can’t attend in person.”
There are four distinct phases through which technology in schooling evolves. The first phase is characterized by access. In the next phase, technology is used to enhance existing processes. The third phase is characterized by using technology strategically. No longer is technology considered a “bolt-on”, or “veneer” on top of existing processes – it now helps drive schooling towards strategic goals such as significantly improved learning and better return on investments. In the final phase, leading edge schools use ICT to transform their operations, using it to personalize learning, integrate deeply with the wider community, run extremely efficient administration systems and develop a culture of performance.
‘Strategic’ Phase Vision
In the Strategic phase, technology becomes a key asset in achieving the strategic goals of an organisation. It’s about restructuring work and processes and doing things differently.
Typically in this phase, the strategic goals of an organisation would include raising standards and improving performance, and technology is a strategic tool for achieving these strategic goals by enabling:
Intelligent intervention – data driven support for learners
Connected Learning Communities – fully exploiting all available resources, and integration with the local community
Monitoring, analysis and planning – data driven decision making
This is essentially about using data to make well informed decisions about what students need to learn or do next. To fully personalise the learning experience students should be constantly assessed as they move through their schooling, and their learning pathways should continuously evolve. This relies on highly effective feedback loops and systems which dynamically adapts to the twists and turns of the learning process, and sets challenging learning goals and tasks. This is extremely difficult to do within a paper-based setup, but can be made a lot easier through using IT systems that provide analytic and workflow capabilities. Intelligent tutoring systems, and managed learning environments, are becoming more commonplace and increasingly sophisticated.
Monitoring, Analysis and Planning
To manage an organisation strategically, as opposed to fighting fires, the ability to monitor performance, analyse results and plan for improvements is fundamental. Organisations wanting to manage strategically must have three key capabilities:
This capability provides managers with the ability to know “what is happening” and “what has happened.” Organisations implement dashboards, scorecards, or reports to monitor their performance. These visual applications allow managers to keep an eye on important indicators of their organisation’s health.
This capability provides managers with the ability to know what is happening and why. To analyse performance, organisations implement solutions that are often very interactive in nature and allow managers to investigate the root cause of issues they see in their dashboards, scorecards, or reports.
This capability provides the organisation with the ability to model what should happen. Organisations develop processes and tools to conduct the essential planning, budgeting, and forecasting exercises. These processes allow managers to align groups and individuals around the metrics that drive the organisation—for instance: “what are our examination result targets?” or “what is our spending versus our revenue?”
Connected Learning Communities
Whilst there may be elements of learning that require independent work, learning only really acquires meaning in a social context, and the most immediate and direct social context for schooling is the local community.
ICT can be used to connect together all those who can make a contribution to students’ learning – e.g. local business, community resources (e.g. museums/libraries), parents and 3rd party learning services. It can connect students to inspiring individuals and inspirational speakers; promote debate and engagement between collaborators in face-to-face or virtual groupings; and provide mentoring opportunities. Connecting stakeholders together in a Connected Learning Community has enormous benefits such as engaging parents more deeply in the learning process, speeding-up processes and improving students’ connections with the outside world. The core of a connected learning community is a portal that can be accessed from anywhere.
In the Strategic phase, students have continual access to their own learning devices. These devices need to enable a range of learning scenarios (not just content consumption), be rugged, easy to repair and support, manageable on a network.
Devices should be available to students so they can learn anytime anywhere, access content, learning management and communication and collaboration tools via the Connected Learning Community Portal.
Having access to their own devices enables students to experience a wide range of learning scenarios:
Classrooms need to accommodate an increasingly wide range of learning styles, and equipment needs to be laid out in quite different ways according to the demands of each different learning task, for example:
BECTA provided the following guidance to UK schools on different classroom layout options:
Pods – separate circular / hexagonal / octagonal benches with workstations
No corners with 2 computers, so no dead spots that cannot be used
No extra space required for 2 pupils to share a computer
Can support collaborative work as users working around ‘one pod’
Pods – squares with computers on two sides only
No corners with 2 computers, so no ‘dead spots’ that cannot be used
No extra space required for 2 pupils to share a computer
Can support collaborative work as users working around ‘one pod’
Bays built along walls
Teacher can more or less see all computer screens from the centre of the room
Provides opportunity to use the centre of the room for tables enabling work away from the computer, and to gather groups for discussion
Cabling and electrical work is cheaper and easier than ‘pod’ designs as along the room edge.
In the Strategic phase, IT has become a strategic asset to schools. With the infrastructure optimised in the Enhanced phase, we now turn our focus on workloads delivered by servers.
The following services are core in the Strategic phase:
Optimised Infrastructure – including File and Print, Database Services, Directory Services, Security, Device Management, and Data Protection and Recovery
MIS – Management Information Systems
Virtualisation – centralizing computing tasks to improve scalability and system performance
These, typically, will be delivered through three layers:
On-Premises – the school hosts key functions on their own servers
Data Centre/Private Cloud – the Local Education Authority (LEA) delivers services to schools from their servers
Public Cloud – the school receives services from the LEA, Ministry of Education and private suppliers from Public Cloud Services
The Strategic phase is characterised by the Connected Learning Community, the core of which is a portal that can be accessed from anywhere. For it to be effective it needs to be “role based” i.e. present users with information and tools relevant to their role and to them as individuals. In other words a teacher in the community sees the information relevant to all teachers, their fellow subject specialists, and also information specific to their particular group of students, their particular HR information, and their particular teaching content, tasks, calendar, e-mail etc.
A portal should give students, parents, managers, teachers, their own “spaces” and deliver to them the resources that are important individually to them through a single web page. It aggregates information from diverse systems into one interface with a single sign-on ID – and organisation-wide search capabilities so that users can access relevant information quickly. Teaching and administration staff can use the portal to distribute information to students based on their enrolment, classes, security group or other membership criteria, while enabling them to personalise the portal content and customise the layout to suit their needs.
A great Portal reference architecture is Twynham School. Twynham is a 1600+ Secondary school in Christchurch UK, built a powerful collaboration platform – “Learning Gateway” – which allows students, staff and parents to work efficiently; develop independent and inter-dependence in their learning strategies; and support children in achieving their full potential. Twynham School won the BECTA ICT Excellence Award in 2008 for learning Beyond the Classroom and the schools works with over 400 schools internationally to support the development of their Learning Platforms.
Mike Herrity at Twynham has published a detailed e-book explaining how the Learning Gateway is used: http://bit.ly/qJohiL
Microsoft have also published a full architectural guide explaining how Twynham built their Learning Gateway – http://bit.ly/qORAW5
Enabling many of the functions in the portal are 2 sub-systems – Content Management and Unified Communications & Collaboration.
Content Management Systems (CMS)
When ICT is fully implemented, vast amounts of content gets created. In order to get maximum efficiencies from ICT, this content needs to be organised and managed in a way that means that people don’t replicate one another’s work.
A content management system in a connected learning community helps education institutions organise and facilitate the collaborative creation of documents and other content. They enable the full life cycle of content – from initial creation to delivery to end users. CMS comprise document and records management, web content management, forms, search, library systems, curriculum frameworks, curriculum systems, curriculum exemplars and resource assemblers.
Unified Communications (UC) & Collaboration
Today it is typical that people will have multiple contact addresses – direct line phone number; mobile phone number; e-mail; Instant Messenger; home number; personal mobile number; home e-mail, etc. Unified Communications (UC) takes identity and presence and then has all of these other ways of interacting simply connect up to that.
A single integrated identity can simplify how you find and communicate with others. One integrated desktop application can provide easy access to all the ways users are likely to want to communicate. Another key advantage to UC is that in using Voice over IP (VOIP) for telephone calls, it has the potential to significantly reduce communication costs.
UC enables students, teachers, parents and other stakeholders to confer and consult in the way that suits their work style by switching seamlessly between videoconferencing, telephone, email and instant messaging.
Also within UC are task and calendaring functions.
Data Driven Decision Making
In a schooling system, data driven decision making is supported by a huge number of information systems. Any process that involves the creation and transmission of information can be considered an information system – even informal discussions.
The collective term for the information systems in schooling is Management Information Systems (MIS).
Functions Supported by an MIS
The functions that a Management Information System need to support are:
Improving Student Performance
Parents Engagement In Learning
Better Teaching Decisions
Make Better Management Decisions
Monitor, Analyse and Plan
Tactical Decision Making
Manage Resources More Effectively
Planning and budgeting
Accountability and Alignment
Performance and Assessment Data
KPIs, Scorecards, Dashboards and Reports
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Drive Administrative Efficiencies
Management Information Systems – Functional Architecture
In this context, an information system really means an organised hierarchy of information sub-systems. Management Information System (MIS) is a term used as a container for all of the electronic information systems within a schooling system. These systems vary in size, scope and capability, from packages that are implemented in relatively small organisations to cover student records alone, to enterprise-wide solutions that aim to cover most aspects of running large multi-site organisations.
In the Strategic Phase, the goal of service provision at Local Education Authority level is to deliver those services which when aggregated improve in quality and price.
Local Education Authorities can use their scale to negotiate the best prices for content, communication, support services etc. Many of the services requiring the most maintenance and management – e.g. learning services, system management, business intelligence, and administrative tasks such as payroll and HR, are delivered more cost effectively from a centralised point. Other benefits include the use of greater amounts of data for decision making – an LEA with data from many schools can perceive more patterns than a single school with its limited pool of data.
Many LEA services are delivered through data centres built on top of optimised infrastructures. Increasingly data centres will become Private Clouds – essentially Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) within the data centre. The large scale and pay-as-you-go economics of Public Clouds aren’t available in typical Private Clouds. However, Private Clouds offer at least some of the scalability and elasticity benefits of Public Cloud but with additional control and customisation. Increasingly many of these services will be also be delivered from Public Clouds.
The services delivered by the LEA can be split into two main categories:
Schooling Enterprise Services
Monitoring, Analysis and Planning
Student Relationship Management
Ministry of Education
Some of the Schooling Enterprise Services delivered by LEAs to their schools and communities could be provided at National level from the Central Ministry of Education. Services such as strategy, policy, budgets, and curriculum are usually set and delegated at national level.
Computing functions at Ministry of Education level can be grouped into three main categories:
Internal departments – Curriculum, Policy, Research etc.
Regional Services – Resources and BI
National Services – Content (information services) and infrastructure – e.g. national level schooling enterprise internet backbone
One of the most important functions at Ministry level is to have a “clear line of sight” of the performance of the schooling system. This enables BI analysis and for resources to then be focussed on the areas where they will have most impact.
Fitts and Aziza (Joey Fitts and Bruno Aziza, 2008) talk of a “line of sight” from strategic to operational to tactical decisions as the discipline that drives aligned execution. “Line of sight” means clear visibility of goals, and progress towards them at executive (strategic), management (operational), employees (tactical) levels.
“Clear line of sight” is about performance metric alignment across organisational layers. This can be thought of as an organisation chart for performance metrics, indicating how the various levels of the organisation’s performance metrics relate to one another. At school level, classroom teacher’s metrics roll up to their Head of Department, which in turn roll up to Deputy Principals, which in turn roll up to the Principal. In turn, and depending on the mode of operations, performance metrics for Principals should roll up to those of Local Authority Directors, which in turn finally roll up to the Ministry of Education.
Technology Building Blocks
Finally, pulling these building blocks together we get the following high level architecture:
Moving from the Enhanced Phase to the Strategic Phase is as much about management as ICT. In this phase, the technology is used a tool for getting better allignement between strategy set at MoE level to exectution at school level. At all levels, there are strategic decisions that ICT can help monitor, analyse, plan and execute.
In the next article in this series, we will explore the final phase – Transformation.
This is the second in a series of articles that aim to help schooling systems develop their technology, the first being “Taking the First Steps“.
There are four distinct phases through which technology in schooling evolves. The first phase is characterized by access. In this phase, giving students and teachers access to computers to improve some aspects of lesson delivery and administration is the main focus. In the next phase, technology is used to enhance existing processes. It’s about providing content and tools to increase learning, organising communications and starting to manage data and information. The third phase is characterized by using technology strategically. No longer is technology considered a “bolt-on”, or “veneer” on top of existing processes – it now helps drive schooling towards strategic goals such as significantly improved learning and better return on investments. In the final phase, leading edge schools use ICT to transform their operations, using it to personalize learning, integrate deeply with the wider community, run extremely efficient administration systems and develop a culture of performance.
The “Enhanced” Phase
The goals of the Enhance Phase of ICT development are to:
Improve communications with parents
Manage data and information
In this phase, computers are available in several areas of the school, some in labs, and others scattered in classrooms and other learning spaces. These computers are connected together in a network and key resources, such as content, printers, scanners, and users are managed centrally.
Students use computers as a learning tool – e.g., using multimedia learning packages; solving maths problems; researching; reading from e-books; developing writing skills; learning languages; and developing 21st Century skills.
Curriculum Area Examples
Word structure and spelling
A great example of how to help children remember how to spell individual words is the “Look Cover Write and Check” web application on the Ambleside School site
Bilingual audio books combine rich graphics with spoken word for foreign language learning. Award winning Mantra Lingua have combined traditional print media with a “talking pen”.
Learning from feedback
Word processing software now enables students to “word process” maths to clearly show complex formulae, along with 2d and 3d graphs, making it easier to communicate their thinking and get feedback on it. Check out the free Math add-in for Word and OneNote.
Students can use Logo software to draw patterns students quickly learn the importance of expressing their commands unambiguously and in the correct order
A software Graphing Calculator can be a great tool for teaching maths when used with a data projector for whole class teaching, or better still when given to students to use. A lesson can be built up and stored then each stage “replayed”. Check out the free Microsoft Math 4.0
Students can design surveys, such as the heights of their peers and teachers, and enter the data into a spreadsheet to learn about averages and correlations.
Electronic telescopes enable pupils to collect images from different locations on Earth and at different times of the day. Telescope sites also provide learning resources and galleries of images.
Recording and measuring
USB microscopes and data loggers can be used in the classroom to observe, record results, plot graphs and analyse data. E.g. see this data logging programme from Kent which explores topics such as: most effective sunglasses; which surface will slow down the car? Who has the hottest hands; where is the noisiest place in school?
Providing models or demonstrations
Simulating experiments can enable students to experiment with phenomena that may be too slow, too fast, too dangerous or too expensive to experience in school. Check out Crocodile Clips’ Yenka for example.
Additionally, worksheets with practical examples and screenshots explaining how to use ICT in Primary Schools are available here
Other resources developed for classroom use by teachers, for teachers can be found in the Teachers Toolbox and here.
Managing Learning Content
When ICT is implemented, lots of content gets created. In order to get maximum efficiencies from ICT, this content needs to be organised and managed in a way that means that people don’t replicate one another’s work.
At school level, content can be managed through a file sharing system on a server on a network. For example, Windows Server 2008 enables files to be centrally shared and managed. The “Shared Folders” feature enables file-shares to be created and permissions set, which will allow students and teachers to store their work.
At a more advanced level, content can be better managed using a portal such as SharePoint Server 2010. Combining content management with collaboration tools and powerful search, SharePoint makes information easy to find, share, and use.
Beyond the school, regions or even whole countries are beginning to provide organised learning content, as explored in the articles on SULINET and managing learning content.
In Brazil, for example, Educopedia is a learning content portal run by the City of Rio. Users are presented with a list of all of the elementary and middle school grades and under each of these they can access all the school curricula for each discipline.
For example, a teacher can click on a subject area link, and see a content index consisting of the school year course plan which contains the lessons and related curriculum standards.
From there, they can download lesson plans with suggestions on how to make the best use of the resource materials available; a list of the skills and competences addressed; a PowerPoint presentation for classroom use; and a quiz with questions about the class content.
Educopedia also provides users with communication and collaboration functions through live@edu, which provides a mechanism for user authentication.
The usual way in which schools communicate directly with parents is via “parent evenings” – many parents end up seeing a teacher once or twice a year for 5 minutes. Hardly enough time to say “hello” and “goodbye”.
Research demonstrates that active parental involvement in educational activities delivers a positive impact on attainment. Technology can be used to connect parents with information regarding the educational progress of their child, and a range of supplemental activities in which the parent can support the learning process. For example, ICT can be used to:
Enable parents and teachers to communicate more frequently with each other
Identify problems and issues at an early stage and involve parents in rectifying them
Give parents the tools to support learning activities at home
Provide parents with immediate news about the school and its activities.
At a basic level, ICT can contribute:
E-mail news bulletins
Digital learning resources to assist the student with homework
Educational resources for parents, such as behavioural management guidance
Alerts on critical issues such as lack of attendance, dropping attainment levels, behavioural issues, etc
Managing Data and Information
Teacher Administrative Tasks
ICT can really help with reducing the time spent on teacher’s basic administrative tasks including:
Lesson plans and materials
Producing class lists
Keeping and filing records
Analyses of attendance and results
Ordering supplies and equipment.
Producing formal minutes of meetings
In Latvia, the Ministry of Education were able to achieve time savings of 30% by deploying SharePoint Server across 100 schools. This allowed them to automate routine grading tasks and reporting, delivering significant time savings for teachers.
For a report on how ICT helped UK teachers reduce administrative burdens, click here.
Managing Baseline Administrative Data and Information
Whilst different countries have different mandatory requirements for essential data that they expect schools provide, UNESCO (2003) has set out a recommended specification of essential data to collect at the national level from each education establishment.
Data on students
Data on teachers and other categories of personnel
Distribution by grade, gender and age
Distribution of teachers by level of qualification and certification, by grade and by gender
Distribution of repeaters by gender and grade
Distribution of teachers by age and by gender
Number of learners attending double-shift classes by grade.
Number of teachers working double shifts
Data on education establishments
Number of teachers in multi-grade classes
Number of classrooms
Number of non-teaching personnel by categories, age and gender.
Places available in schools
Distribution of teachers by level of qualification and certification, by grade and by gender
Distribution of teachers by age and by gender
The budget as part of the overall State budget (budget voted and budget disbursed) broken down by level
Number of teachers working double shifts
The expenditures at the local level, of private organizations by level
Number of teachers in multi-grade classes
Student Information Systems (SIS)
Schools need to keep records on their students which should, at the very least, include:
Personal – name; address; photo; family contacts
Performance – actual and predicted grades; teachers comments
Attendance – by day, by lesson, over time
Risk profile – learning, social, medical and demographic
Intervention history – what assistance and guidance has been given to the student
A study by the UK Institute of Fiscal Studies in 2009, shows that “learners who use a computer at home for schoolwork could get as much as ½ a grade to their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) examination results and as much as a term on to their GCSE learning”. No surprise then to see the explosion of national level projects for the wide-scale introduction of ‘personal learning devices’. However, many of these schemes wrongly focus on a ‘blanket’ approach of providing huge numbers of cheap portable PC’s. Unfortunately most of these projects have been driven by getting the most computers for the lowest price, rather than focusing on getting the right device for the learning that needs to be done.
To get the best return on investment a device for students should have the following features:
Provide a platform for use of the widest range of productivity, creativity, and communication and collaboration tools
Result in users acquiring relevant knowledge and employability skills
Have a display of around 13 to 15 inches
Have software that makes learning accessible to all, including those with disabilities
Capable of being managed remotely and as part of a managed network
Sharable with other users
Battery life should exceed 3 hours under full CPU load with full screen brightness
Appropriate ports to allow them to connect to other equipment
·Wireless networking capability
Be self-contained and work without needing high levels of internet access once set up
Protected from viruses, spyware, and other malicious software
Hard Drive encryption for security
One of the advantages of giving students a PC – as opposed to lower specification devices – is that they can share them with family and friends, amplifying the effects of the investment. For example, Mouse Mischief enables students to share applications extending the use of the device.
Ideally, students will be able to bring their laptops into the school and make use of them within a managed network, but this takes time, so a more likely scenario in the Enhanced phase is that students use shared computer resources at school. In this phase, there is likely to be an ICT suite with enough computers to take at least 30 children sharing a computer in pairs. Computers will also be found in other learning spaces in the school to support the kind of learning scenarios mentioned above. The computers that were originally used in the school can now be distributed throughout the school, some of which can be used as Thin Clients networked to the Server and/or Windows Multipoint Server.
Of course, computers aren’t the only hardware devices used in the classroom. Digital cameras; video cameras; voting devices; interactive whiteboard tools; robotic kits; digital microscopes; and projectors all have a role to play in the learning process in the Enhanced phase.
With ICT across the school, there is need for an organised network to manage ICT services. Learning content, devices, peripherals, access, administrative processes and users. Connecting with a local authority, state or national level learning content service is crucial, and this has to take place within a secured environment. The school will also need to connect to secure Local Authority services within a Wide Area Network.
An important question in this phase is how to manage e-mail. This can be done “on-premises” using server software such as Exchange Server; as a ‘rented’ service such as Exchange Online; or as a free “commodity” type service such as Office 365 for Education. The answer depends on the amount of resource available to manage the service, and the degree of control that a school wants to have over e-mail policy. Increasingly email – along with services such as calendaring and personal file storage – are commodity services that institutions are happy to see moving into the Cloud.
For a useful document from BECTA that sets out key considerations for school ICT network design, click here.
With a system in place for collecting baseline administrative data, there now needs to be a continuous flow of information between schools, the Local Authority and Ministry of Education with budget allocations flowing downwards and reporting on performance flowing upwards. This has to be achieved through a Wide Area Network to ensure the secure transfer of data. Several technologies are available for this including “Leased Line”, “Circuit Switching”, “Packet Switching” and “Virtual Private Networks”.
As we saw above, the Local Education Authority of Rio City also provides learning content and collaboration services to schools. These can be delivered as a web service from a data centre.
The foundation on which the entire schooling architecture is built is called “Optimised Infrastructure”. This provides a scalable, secure platform which can be built on to provide a growing number of services.
Key capabilities of an Optimised Infrastructure are:
The key component without which none of this will work is stringent security and networking protocols. This is needed to protect students and employees from unauthorised users, viruses and unsuitable content. Security systems should automatically identify threats and respond automatically.
Local Area Network (LAN)
Computers need to be connected to a LAN – wired and/or wireless – with a server that controls the network, stores files and enables printing. A classroom might have just a few computers that all the students take turns using, so it’s important that an educational computer be configured just the way the teacher wants. The teacher shouldn’t have to waste valuable teaching time troubleshooting. Each PC in a LAN needs to be “locked down” and reset easily.
Data Protection and Recovery
As ICT becomes increasingly “mission critical”, it’s important to manage data so it can be rapidly recovered. When infrastructure is fully optimised, recovering information should be as simple as browsing the network. Backup devices are now very cheap to buy and manage, and will automatically run in the background.
Identity and Access management
Identity and Access Management can help organisations centrally manage user information and access rights. It allows administrators to manage each student, teacher, administrator individually by setting their role, access and functional level. This enables individual users to have information and software tools that are specific to their individual requirements – a personalised IT service. A directory service holds each user account and its access functions and allows the user to access various systems using the same set of credentials. Authentication can be by various mechanisms such as logon credentials, smartcards, and biometrics.
Desktop, Server and Device management
In an optimised infrastructure, those responsible for the management of networks have the tools to control their IT infrastructure; easing operations; reducing troubleshooting time; controlling quota; password re-setting; provisioning users; improving planning capabilities; and managing mobile devices.
Integration and Interoperability
A key goal of optimising infrastructure is to integrate different systems so they can exchange data. The advantage of this is that data only has to be inputted once, and then used by multiple systems saving time and money. Ideally data in Student Information Systems, Teacher Administration and Accounting Packages will interoperate, saving teachers and administration staff from having to re-key in data every time they wanted to update records or produce reports.
Databases are the “engines” of information management. They are used to capture, store, analyse and interpret a wide variety of information, and deliver this information to a range of different applications and devices including servers, desktops and mobile systems. Data includes text, numbers, pictures, video streams, audio content, and geo-spatial information. Not only do databases store data but they interpret, index and enable it to be searched.
Schooling system networks need to be reliable to encourage user confidence and to support learning and teaching, as well as school management and administration. This requires access to technical support, which can come from technicians within the school, or from another provider, or sometimes from students themselves. In an optimised infrastructure, schooling systems need to move away from a reactive system in which incidents are dealt with only as they arise. Instead they need to create a more pro-active system where technical support prevents problems occurring and ensures that individual ICT systems are robust and reliable and available when required.
Bringing all this together the overall architectural model for a school in the “Enhanced” phase looks like this:
It’s often harder to take the second step than the first. Indeed, moving from PCs in a single location to an integrated and managed network has many challenges. The advantages well outweigh the challenges because by developing the school’s technology in this way, students gain access to a wider range of learning opportunities, develop more skills and knowledge. Teachers can use ICT to engage better with students and their parents, and school administration can improve enabling more effective use of resources.
In the next article in this series, we will explore the next phase – moving from using ICT to enhance existing operations to using ICT to drive strategic change.
Data is fundamental to operating schooling systems. Without data schooling systems would grind to a halt – teachers wouldn’t get paid; students wouldn’t get transported; taught and fed; and essential services would cease to operate.
As the value of good data for decision making is becoming more widely understood, the quantity of data in the world’s schooling systems is ballooning. But how much data are we talking about, how fast is it growing, and how can it be better managed.
To get a sense of how big the issue is, let’s start by looking at Charlotte Mecklenburg in the US – a School District that has paid a lot of attention to its data and information systems recently. According to David Fitzgerald, Vice President of the Education Group at Mariner, Charlotte Mecklenburg School District in the US plans to use 70 Terabytes for a system with 140,000 students – 524.3MB per student.
The US and Western Europe account for ~10% of the world’s school students population – 0.12Bn. So, assuming similar levels of consumption across these regions, we can estimate that in these areas alone there is 60,000TB of data in schooling systems. 1TB = 50k trees worth of paper and print, so we’re looking at 3bn trees worth of data. Imagine that every student on the planet used the same amount of data as Charlotte Mecklenburg – that would add up to 30bn trees.
Whilst it’s currently unlikely that the amount of data in schooling systems adds up to this amount yet, there are several factors pushing it hard in this direction.
For example, major countries such as Russia, Mexico and Brazil are developing and running massive student data operations, increasing both the quantities and sophistication of data used.
UNESCO (2003) state that most countries develop education databases, and they also specify the optimal datasets that should be maintained. Let’s suppose that this adds up to a minimum of 1/2 a typewritten page on each of the student population living outside the USA and Western Europe, roughly 1 Kilobytes each. Rounding-off, we can estimate that 1bn students x 1Kb = 954GB. It’s interesting to think that this could be kept on a single external hard drive no bigger than a paperback book. However, add other data, say a single low-resolution image per student, and that rises by a factor of 8. Add digital work produced by students and this number grows exponentially.
Also, there is a sharp increase in the rate at which data is used in developed countries. Take New South Wales for example. Last year, New South Wales Department of Education and Training – which has 1.3m students – used 280TB of storage space – but this has been doubling every year for last five years!
The amount of data used in schooling can only increase as governments around the world recognise that it is core to improving effectiveness.
WHY IS MANAGING DATA CORE TO IMPROVING SCHOOLING EFFECTIVENESS?
Driven by the need for better accountability for how public funds are spent, and the widespread use of international benchmarks such as PISA, there is a sharp increase in the number of governments and private companies that are investing in solutions for data driven decision making. These investments aim to use data to:
Improve student performance: Give students, parents, teachers and administrators a clear picture of student performance at an individual or group level so they can adjust and personalise learning accordingly
Make better management decisions: Inform routine decisions and strategic planning across all enablers and disciplines with accurate, readily-available data
Increase accountability: Quickly and easily understand performance across organisations
Manage resources more effectively: Gain a better understanding of projected revenues and expenditures; keep track of financial health; compare costs against those of other organisations
Drive administrative efficiencies: Improve time and effort taken to report information. Improve quality and presentation of information.
SO WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT DATABASES THEN?
Why is it that peoples’ eyes glaze over when you start talking about databases? Most web pages that you will experience – including this one – are driven by databases. For most people databases are “black boxes”, and few care about how they work or what they do. However, a basic understanding of databases and how they work is essential to understanding how ICT can make schooling more effective – so let’s take a quick database 101:
WHAT IS A DATABASE?
Databases arrange data as sets of records, and these records are arranged as rows. Each record consists of several fields which are arranged in columns. The rows and columns combine to form a table.
Most large scale databases are Relational, which means that they can connect data from two or more tables.
Forms are a main way to enter data into a database
Queries are used to get data out of a database.
Reports format and display data from the database.
Indexes improve the speed of data retrieval operations by querying a unique key which in turn uniquely identifies each row in a table. Metadata – data about data – can include tables of all tables, their names, sizes and number of rows in each table; or tables of columns, what tables they are used in, and the type of data stored in each column.
At the heart of a database is the Database Engine – software for storing, processing and securing data; providing controlled access and processing capabilities. The structure of the database is described in a Schema, and this is usually written in a language called “Structured Query Language” SQL. This language determines how data is inserted, queried, updated and deleted. Different database vendors have different extension to SQL – T-SQL is Microsoft’s extension to SQL.
A Data Warehouse is a database that extracts data from operational systems for reporting. It can aggregate data from different sources, and ensure that the integrity of operational data isn’t compromised by the processes associated with analysing it.
Integration Services are the means by which data from various sources can be integrated, extracted, transformed, and loaded into data warehouses.
OLAP – or Online Analytical Processing – enables data to be manipulated and analysed from multiple perspectives. Eg a Longitudinal analysis could involve the study of student progress over time, and take advantage of an OLAP Cube to interrogate a number of different dimensions over a given period.
Analysis Services supports OLAP by allowing the design, creation, and management of multidimensional structures that contain data aggregated from a range of data sources, such as relational databases.
Data Mining – is about extracting patterns from large sets of data, to yield Business Intelligence (BI) for example, high achievement correlated with the number of books in the family home, or low reading ability impacting examination results. Data Mining Services enables the design, creation, and visualisation of data mining models.
Reporting Services – enabling reports to be published in various formats drawing on content from a variety of data sources. They also centrally manage security and subscriptions. Portal Integration – it’s crucial to for end-users to work with operational data – in ‘dashboard’ format ideally – through a portal site.
To be able to manage databases is crucial and several key tools are used for this. Master Data Services is the means by which all applications across the organization can rely on a central, accurate source of information. Replication – copying and distributing data and database objects from one database to another, and synchronizing between databases to maintain consistency. Automated compression and backup are also key tools.
WHAT HAS THIS GOT TO DO WITH THE CLOUD?
With massive growth in the amount of data used in schooling comes questions about sustainability, cost and management. The Cloud offers some major advantages here:
Having data in the cloud makes it easier for authorized users with internet access to access that data from almost anywhere.
In an enterprise architecture where resources are distributed, organisations usually have a single SQL Server back-end with WAN links and/or multiple distributed SQL Server installations that replicate data with each other. Maintaining this kind of environment is time consuming and expensive. With the cloud, replication, backup, compression etc are all taken care of.
As with other Cloud services, you only pay for what you use. During the peaks and troughs of schooling system operations, one can expect to see varying amounts of data storage requirements.
SQL Azure is Microsoft’s Cloud Database solution, and it offers the following benefits:
No physical administration required – software installation and patching is included, as SQL Azure is a platform as a service (PAAS)
High availability and fault tolerance are built in
Simple provisioning and deployment of multiple databases
Scale databases up or down based on business needs
Multitenant – i.e. a single database can provide services to multiple organisations
Integration with SQL Server and tooling including Visual Studio®
Support for T-SQL-based familiar relational database model
Option for pay-as-you-go pricing
The SQL Azure suit currently comprises of the following offerings, some currently on limited availability:
SQL Azure Database – a Platform as a Service (PaaS) relational database. Highly available and scalable .
SQL Azure Data Sync – allows organisations to extend their current sets of data into the Cloud. It provides synchronisation between an organisation’s current SQL on-premises databases and SQL Azure Databases in the Cloud. Currently available in Community Technology Preview.
SQL Azure Reporting – a complete reporting infrastructure that enables users to see reports with visualizations such as maps, charts, gauges, sparklines etc. Currently available in Community Technology Preview.
The Windows Azure Platform Appliance under limited trials, this will eventually enable organisations to deploy their own Cloud Services from within their own datacentres. The Windows Azure Platform Appliance consists of Windows Azure, SQL Azure and a Microsoft-specified configuration of network, storage and server hardware.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF CLOUD DATABASE SERVICES
Taking full advantage of the Cloud is not something that is going to happen overnight. Besides careful analysis and planning for migrating existing services, Cloud computing opens up a whole set of questions around what new services could be offered. For example, the rise of virtual schooling across the world – as brilliantly analyzed in the US by Clayton Christensen in his book “Disrupting Class” – will be a major beneficiary of cheap, ubiquitous database services at massive scale.
As pointed out in the Cloud Watching #1, moving to the Cloud is not without effort and risk. David Chappell, in his excellent paper “The Benefits and Risks of Cloud Platforms: A Guide for Business Leaders“ points out that storing data outside their organization makes people nervous. Many countries have regulations about where certain kinds of data can and can’t be stored, so before putting data into the Cloud platform, it’s important to ensure compliance.
A key question is to ask whether any given data centre is more secure than those of the major Cloud service providers. A significant data breach for a Cloud services provider is likely to mean a huge financial loss, so there’s a very strong incentive for them to keep the data they hold secure.
David Chappell also advises – “as with any new technology, starting small can be a good approach. Perhaps your first cloud application should be important, for instance, but not truly mission critical”. The same can be said for data.
Whilst its early days for Cloud based database services in Education, we’re beginning to see interest turning to into plans and action. For example, Curtin University in Perth, Australia, has started to move some of its services to the Cloud and intend to take advantage of SQL Azure.
“The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching, and credentialing”.
Cloud will no doubt change how data is gathered, manipulated and interrogated, and by making vast amounts of storage available at extremely low prices we can look forward to seeing innovative organisations build completely new services to reach growing numbers of learners in completely new ways.
The challenge for the Israeli city of Ramat Gan was how to build a platform to connect students, parents, teachers and external experts – and deliver a set of learning services to enable students to go from mememorizing content to building analytical and synthesis skills. Ramat Gan, well known for international high tech businesses, also needed a sytem to enable students to aquire in-demand high level technology skills.
The solution – a “Learning Gateway” based on SharePoint 2010 and Live@Edu – delivers a spectrum of communication and collaboration tools, learing content, and applications.
Watch the video here:
Further north a different set of needs resulted in a similar solution being developed. Schooling for 50,000 K-12 students students in the city of Haifa was being distrupted by conflict, so a way to ensure continuity of schooling services had to be found. The answer, again, was a Learning Gateway solution that delivers a range of learning services to all students in the city, regardless of whether they are working from home or in school.
How lucky am I to be able to send my children to an excellent state school on the outskirts of London? Apart from having an Olympic Gold medalist, a Turner Prize winning artist, and a BBC newsreader amongst its alumni, West Hatch High School has now acquired an international reputation for its work in ICT. The school has just become a “Microsoft Innovative School” – partly due to the technical excellence of IT Manager, Alan Richards, and the smart investments in ICT made by Headteacher Frances Howarth and the Board of Governors.
Despite being able to offer IT Academy courses to the community for many years, it wasn’t until 2008 and with the arrival of Alan, that West Hatch started to optimise its infrastructure. Until then West Hatch’s 1300 students and staff had no guarantee of their network’s reliability, which meant it was underused. As Alan says: “Teachers will try things two or three times, but after that, if a lesson’s wrecked, they won’t risk it again.”
Alan joined the school with a track record of moving schools from failing ICT systems to state of the art facilities. His starting point was to rebuild the whole school network with new fibre-optic and network cabling and a managed wireless solution. The next step was to replace 24 servers of varying ages, and it was at this point that the decision to virtualise was made.
What is Virtualisation?
A school network will usually have one server for each major IT service function, such as the Management Information System (MIS), Learning Management Systems (LMS), accounts, printing, and library systems etc. When a system is virtualised, these physical servers are replaced with virtual servers that are housed in clusters on a smaller number of physical servers. This has significant benefits in terms of savings, efficiency and reliability. The number of physical servers needed to effectively run the West Hatch’s network shrank from 24 to 9, and virtualisation increased efficiency of the network whilst saving $18,000 a year in hardware, maintenance and electricity.
Virtualisation provides the system with the ability to deal seamlessly with the failure of a server by automatically moving all its services to another – the rest of the school wouldn’t even know it’s happened. “Our staff have confidence in the use of ICT now. They know they can go into a classroom, turn on the computer, and have the applications they need for their lesson up and running in seconds,”
The key technology that enabled this to happen is Microsoft Hyper-V Server, and Alan and the team also used Microsoft Network Monitor in and beyond the pilot phase to ensure effective resource planning. Server technology is predominantly Windows Server 2008. A detailed case study is available here – West Hatch_Virtualisation_Case_Study. West Hatch uses Application Virtualisation, as well as Hardware (or physical) Virtualisation described above. For a detailed description from Alan on how he virtualised applications using Microsoft App-V click here.
Towards the Paperless School
With a solid network foundation in place, the next challenge for Alan was to build a portal. Having been the first school in Europe to deploy Windows 7 across its network, West Hatch was also the first school in the UK to build a portal on SharePoint 2010. This has enabled students, staff, parents and the wider community to benefit from a wealth of information and learning resources.
But the SharePoint 2010 sites goes way beyond just providing information. It is now being used to reduce printing and postage costs. It is estimated that 1.5 million sheets of paper are used per year at West Hatch – the paper, toner, photocopier rental and staffing costs associated with this paper “blizzard” are phenomenal.
A major step forward for Alan was converting Academic Review day from a paper-intensive activity to a paper-less activity. Academic review is when all students and parents attended interviews with teacher. Prior to the use of SharePoint, this process involved completion of paper forms. Now forms are managed electronically and copies of agreed academic targets are emailed to the students and parents.
Alan has a passion for providing every student with the facilities they need to achieve the best they can. Best of all, Alan openly shares his knowledge in his wonderful blog – Education Technology Now. Needless to say, Alan’s presentation this year at BETT on using ICT to save money whilst raising standards was a big hit!
Access to virtual and in-person training from Microsoft and renowned education experts from around the world
Support for professional development
Access to the global Innovative Schools community
And finally, I can’t resist it – here’s a picture from my daughter – a Yr 10 student in West Hatch. Produced on OneNote on a Tablet PC, this was synchronised between my computer and her computer using the automatic synchronisation between OneNote and SkyDrive.
The Malaysian “Smart School” concept, launched in 1999, aims help transform Malaysia’s economic activities from being based on natural resources to knowledge. It started with a pilot program involving 88 schools, building up technology infrastructure and training teachers. It is currently in the fourth stage of the roadmap (2010-2020) where technology becomes an integral part of learning process with strong focus on outcome driven activities.